“I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound.
In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.”
Philippians 4:12, ESV
It seems odd that the apostle Paul should speak about the secret to facing plenty. We know the necessity of facing the challenges of hunger and lack. But why is there a need here to talk about facing abundance? Should it not be something we just receive and enjoy?
Seasons of prosperity can insidiously lead us to slide downwards. Paul was aware of this. Abundance has a way of making us believe that it has come to us because of our own efforts. It will not be long before our efforts and the wealth they produce become what we trust in, moving God out of the picture.
However, these high moments do not last. Like the financial and property markets have shown in the last couple of decades, bubbles will burst. Hence the counsel Paul gives Timothy: “As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy.” (1 Timothy 6:17, ESV)
Then Paul gives the secret to facing plenty: “[The rich] are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life.” (1 Timothy 6:18-19, ESV) What we need to do in times of abundance is to look out for others: to extend acts of kindness towards them, to give and to share with them what we have received.
Scripture presents two angles to these actions. First, these acts are like investments: they are storing up treasures for the future. Second, when the rich live like this, then they have really grasped what life is all about. God intends us to live lives that are other-centred.
But what about the secret to facing hunger and need? Paul did face deprivation and lack. He did not always have what he needed. The apostle experienced what it meant to live as one of the “have-nots”. Yet he declared that he had learned the art of facing such situations. To live through such tough times when we have nothing much requires a particular mindset. First, “my God will supply all [my] needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19, NASB). Second, “I did not burden anyone” (2 Corinthians 11:9, ESV).
With such an attitude, Paul then went on to declare, “we worked night and day (as tentmakers), that we might not be a burden to any of you” (1 Thessalonians 2:9, ESV). In other words, there is no excuse for hard work and endurance. Even though he knew that the support God would provide from elsewhere would see him through, he continued to work to earn a living as well.
Ups and downs are part and parcel of life. Some of those downs may come with times of not having enough to survive. While we may have faith in God, Scripture also tells us that “faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead” (James 2:17). We find ways to keep going, knowing that God will supply.
Oftentimes, this happens through the generosity of those who have been blessed and are moved by God to act. Hence the need for those of us in times of plenty to give and to share.
Picture by oleandra/Bigstock.com
Bishop Dr Wee Boon Hup was elected Bishop of The Methodist Church in Singapore in 2012. He has been a Methodist pastor for 30 years.